Sanctions on Pyongyang
Time for cool-headed calculation of gains, losses
A three-way war-of-nerves is going on between North Korea, the United States and China over a possible nuclear test by Pyongyang.
The United States is strongly warning against any further provocation by the reclusive regime; North Korea denies such an intention but links it to Washington’s sanctions; and China is pressing both sides, making clear its opposition against activities that complicate the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Noticeable for its absence is South Korea’s voice on the matter. Seoul of course maintains a similar position to America’s and indirectly conveyed it to Pyongyang through the United States. Yet it hardly mitigates the emptiness most South Koreans feel owing to Seoul’s relative diplomatic isolation.
And that seems to be too far a cry from years ago when the United States and even Chinese officials asked for Seoul’s intermediary role in breaking the deadlock in multilateral denuclearization talks.
Exactly two years have passed since Seoul severed nearly all exchanges with Pyongyang to punish what the South saw as the North’s torpedoing of its battleship Cheonan and killing 46 sailors aboard about two months before, completely freezing the already chilly relationship. Such a stern move was inevitable in view of what South Koreans felt about the North’s provocation.
The problem with the knee-jerk, emotional action, however justifiable it was at that moment, was the lack of analysis of its longer and broader effects, as is the case of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s North Korea policy a whole.
For instance, the Unification Ministry predicted Pyongyang would suffer up to $300 million in annual hard-currency income losses at the time. But the sharply increased trade between North Korea and China more than offset it and a private institute even estimates the economic loss caused by inter-Korean stalemate the past four years at $8.27 billion for the South and $1.64 billion for the North. The average loss of 200 South Korean firms doing business with North Koreans stood at 2 billion won.
Again, larger damages came from the loss of diplomatic initiatives. A recent report that a senior U.S. official visited Pyongyang just before the North’s failed launch of a long-distance rocket reaffirmed Seoul’s diplomatic isolation. The ``direct deal” between the United States and North Korea reflects the basic nature of their relationship concerning the North’s nuclear program and what the United States needs from the aspect of its domestic politics. But it shows the unrecoverable, at least for the moment, inter-Korean ties that force Seoul’s biggest ally to take a roundabout route.
The Lee administration was elected on an anti-Sunshine Policy platform, which itself reflected many South Koreans’ sentiments. Yet Lee’s strategic mistakes of taking a mid-term goal of denuclearization as a precondition for any inter-Korean exchanges, plus his rigid approach in emotional reaction to both the North and his predecessor have combined to pull down the inter-Korean relationship ― and Lee’s own reputation in this area ― to the nadir.
Both blind pacifism and visionless hostility cannot be answers between the Koreas. Cooperation amid principles should be the third solution. Unfortunately, it has become apparent that is not the road Lee will take.